I was reading about the problem of Internet addiction recently (on the Internet, of course) and discovered there are several danger signs, including: "A significant amount of time is spent in activities related to Internet use" and "The Internet is often accessed more often, or for longer periods of time, than was intended." As one who is guilty of both and more besides, I was pretty much ready to check myself in. (But where? Does Betty Ford have an Internet program?) The fact is, I've been spending too much time lately on wine discussion sites—most notably on wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.'s Web site, eRobertParker.com. I even attended a few wine dinners, a.k.a. "offlines," I found on its online bulletin board.
Offlines, for the uninitiated, are real-life lunches and dinners planned by users of Web sites like eRobertParker.com, or "ebob." The Parker site houses the Mark Squires' Wine Bulletin Board, which lists wine lunches and dinners in a forum called "Offline Planner." These gatherings take place all over the world and are organized according to the wines to be tasted and the location (for example, Burgundy in Burbank). Most are held in restaurants, although some are given in private homes and it's democratic: Anyone who has the time, money and the right wine may attend.
My first chance to go to an offline came in the form of a lunch invitation from Parker himself. Would I be interested in dim sum and 19 vintages of the legendary Rhône wine Château de Beaucastel? (Which is a bit like Ed McMahon calling to see if he could stop by with a check.) A group was gathering in a D.C. suburb to drink the Beaucastels they'd bought in a charity auction earlier that year. Parker had contributed the wines himself, and the group of about a half-dozen bidders (who'd all met online) asked the Great Donor himself to join them.